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  Issue No 42 Official Organ of LaborNet 17 December 1999  





More Wins Than Losses

Workers Online ranks the Top Ten industrial relations stories from a year of frenetic activity.

1. Bill Kelty Resigns

The mercurial ACTU secretary finally called it quits after nearly two decades as the titular head of the national trade union movement. From the high point of union influence as the ACTU's Accord power-broker and close confidante of Paul Keating to his latter day role as the invisible leader of a movement under siege, it's been a roller coaster ride for the Kelster. To some he was a visionary, who championed superannuation and brought unions closer to the centre of power. To others he was a distant leader who has presided over a movement losing touch with its membership through the flawed amalgamation strategy. The jury is still out and will probably be for years to come. .

2. Line Drawn on Labour Hire

1999 was the year unions finally stared down the labour hire industry that threatened to eat them alive. While individual unions like the CFMEU took direct action against firms using labour hire as a crude means of cutting staff entitlements, the NSW Labor Council drew up plans that would better regulate the industry, including tying labour hire workers to the conditions of the workplace they are placed in. These proposals were still before the Cabinet Office at Christmas.

3. Oakdale Miners Entitlements Win

It took a group of shafted miners to re-establish the value of trade unionism. The 150 Oakdale miners who were shown the door owed more than $6 million in unpaid entitlements refused to lie down and take the kicking. Within weeks, their plight had become a national campaign as unionists took up their cause as clear evidence that the pendulum had swung too far. Their mobile truck toured regional Australia as the Howard Government reluctantly moved to action. Their legacy will be fairer company laws for all Australian workers.

4. Reith's Second Wave Dumped

The Australian Democrats may have put Reith's Second Wave to the sword, but it was the thousands of trade unionists who mobilised during the year who can take the real credit for galvanising public support to such an extent that another Democrat capitulation would have been political suicide. Highlights included a Sydney rally which had them dancing in the streets and listening to the real impact of labour market deregulation on the lives of ordinary workers. While Reithy was still talking about bringing the laws back in little pieces next year, even he seems to accept that the nastier aspects are dead in the water.

5. Organising Embraced

The NSW Labor Council, and then the New ACTU, threw their collective weight behind the Organising Model of trade unionism. The theory is to devolve power back to the workplace by nurturing networks of activists, rather than casting the union as a service provider. Successful in parts of the US and Canada, Organising has been promoted by TUTA, the union's training body, and adopted by a handful of union branches, notably the NSW division of the Transport Workers Union which has been vigorously moving into non-unionised areas of the workplace such as private sector bus drivers.

6. Shaw Gets Some Friends

After spending much of the past six years in a minority of one, NSW Industrial Relations Minister Jeff Shaw finally has some allies on the National Labour Consultative Comittee. This is the body responsible for setting broad industrial relations agendas, and for much of the recent plus has been more interested in commissioning reports to justify further cutting back of the industrial relations system. But with new Labor Governments in Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria, Jeff is now part of a majority of ministers at the quarterly meetings. More encouraging is the fact that they are all looking at this 1996 Industrial Relations Act as a model for re-regulation.

7. Rio Tinto Finally Hits A Wall

The company that drove the anti-union agenda of the late 1990s. Rio Tinto, was exposed as keeping a Black List of trade union members in court proceedings that also raised allegations of tampering with evidence. The action, over the sacking of union activists at its Blair Athol coal mine, marks a new chapter in the ongoing saga between the giant multi-national and Australia workers. Earlier in the year the Federal Court used Reith's legislation to justify a ruling in that Gordonstone workers could not appeal a AIRC decision, even if it was wrong. The AIRC then effectively dealt itself out of enterprise bargaining by ruling that "all was fair in .love and war".

8. Hotel Workers Get Militant

If the bounce back in falling membership is going to come it has to start in the services sector. A small group of hotel housekeepers showed how it could happen. When the workers at Sydney's Hyde Park Plaza got organised, management decided to offer them lucrative non-union contracts. The workers, mainly migrant women, decided to stand firm, secured the backing of other NSW unions and called a snap strike. As media attention focussed on the hotel and protesters gathered outside, the hotel capitulated, giving the Hyde Park Housekeepers the Workers Online Win of the Year

9. Workers Celebrate New Years Eve

It will be a happier New Year for thousands of workers forced to miss the Big Party and work across a range of public sector, service industry and IT jobs on New Years Eve after unions secured big Y2K bonuses. The LHMU struck first, securing healthy bonuses for hospitality workers at a series of organised workplaces. Following intense lobbying from the Labor Council, the Carr Government proclaimed a half-day public holiday for Dec 31; then offered public sector workers a 400 per cent bonus. Anyone working on the night and questioning the relevance of unions need only check their pay packet.

10. A Unionised Olympic Workforce

First they locked in a decent pay deal for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, then they went about ensuring all workers had access to union membership., In a ground-breaking initiative, Labor Council and affiliates formed Unions 2000, a body to filter workers into the Games workforce, while offering them industrial protection for the duration of the event. While the program won't reap millions, it will give thousands of workers an introduction to the concept of unionism. By Christmas, 1,000 workers had signed up.


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 42 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Costa Bravo
Labor Council�s chief trouble maker chronicles the battles of the past year and ponders those still to come.
*  Unions: More Wins Than Losses
Workers Online ranks the Top Ten industrial relations stories from a year of frenetic activity.
*  International: Eric Lee's Year in Review
The editor of Labourstart looks back over his favourite stories of 1999.
*  Politics: So Many Questions
It was a year in politics that threw up more questions than answers. We look at some of the sticky ones.
*  Republic: Referendum With Class
Labor heretic Michael Thomspson analyses the failure of the Republican proposition.
*  Environment: Seattle Kills Greens V Jobs Bogey
The sight of US unionists, environmentalists and human rights activists being attacked by police in Seattle shows how far the progressive movement has come.
*  Deface a Face: Give Him a Hairdo
What better present could Michael Costa offer Workers Online readers than the chance to give him a Deface a Face style make over?
*  Labour Review: What's New at the Information Centre
See the latest issue of Labour Review, our resource for officials, activists and students.
*  Review: Cultural Wasteland
Workers Online resident door-bitches Zanga and Paul pass judgement on the year that finished the millennium.

»  What Price Aussie Jobs as Olympics Loom
»  TWU Activist Named Organiser of the Year
»  Unions Lock in New Years Eve Deals
»  'Scrooge' Destroys Staff Christmas
»  Rule Changes to Restructure Council
»  The Great Salary Rip-Off
»  George to Kick Start NSW IR Reforms?
»  Shaw Loses Key Advisers
»  More New Faces at the New ACTU
»  Reith Second Wave Not Beached Yet
»  Peace in the Gong
»  Workers Support Register Gathers Steam
»  Pay Equity Enters Campaign Mode
»  Union Aid Agency to Establish Dili Office
»  Job Vacancies at the LHMU

»  Guest Report
»  Sport
»  Trades Hall
»  Piers Watch

Letters to the editor
»  Aquilina's Insult
»  Well Done 1999
»  US Union Site Worth a Look

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